(Credit: Cardiff University)

Covid data shows Welsh hospitals nearly ran out of beds

There were only 22 unoccupied ventilated beds across the nation at one point last year

THE total number of Covid patients in Welsh hospital beds hit its lowest level since 13 October 2020 on Wednesday.

There were 688 patients in general and acute hospital beds being treated for mild-moderate Covid symptoms, and 27 patients in invasive ventilation beds.

Announcing today that “stay local” rules would end this Saturday – making Wales the first home nation to remove restrictions on domestic travel – First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The public health position remains stable.”

However, data on hospital beds in Wales illustrates that this has not always been the case.

Hospital beds: supply and demand

Patients in need of invasive ventilation treatment have come perilously close to not finding beds in the past year. As of 16 December 2020, there were only 22 invasive ventilation beds available across the whole of Wales.

In contrast, the number of beds for patients with mild-moderate Covid symptoms in Wales reached no such critical point, the lowest number of vacant bed available being 1,145 on 21 September.

This is largely explained by the 2,700 additional general and acute beds sat in Welsh field hospitals. These hospitals never exceeded 10% capacity, despite costing £166m to build.

“People may be saying that we should have been using them; they were always there for extraordinary and exceptional use,” said NHS Chief Medical Officer Dr Frank Atherton.

“The fact that they have had that extra flexibility in the system has helped us in our resilience.”

The disparity between the number of available ventilated and general beds is partly explained by the fact there are no invasive ventilation beds in Welsh field hospitals.

Professor Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine at Oxford University, has suggested the UK could have used its resources more effectively in this sense.

“I think it’s not acceptable to call things a success when, actually, you could have been using the resources and strategy and directed them to other areas where the problem existed,” he said.

“While we were building the field hospitals, we took our eye off the ball.”

The Welsh lockdowns

Despite this, data on hospital beds also illustrates the positive impact lockdown measures in Wales have had.

A plateau in the number of patients confirmed to have Covid can be seen soon after the Welsh firebreak lockdown ended on November 3, 2020. A steady reduction in cases can also be seen after the start of the current lockdown.

It is because of these measures, and the 1,320,188 people who have received their first vaccination dose, that the current Covid infection rate in Wales stands at 0.0391%

“Everything you are doing to keep your loved ones safe is also keeping Wales safe,” Mark Drakeford said.

“We’re only able to relax restrictions because of the sacrifices everyone across Wales has made over the last few months.”